Moka House cost versus Starbucks initiative

Why Moka House Isn’t Challenging Starbucks For Coffee Supremacy Anytime Soon

The man likes his coffee, but he likes customer service just as much. Dave Caughran shares his caffeine experience with us in the latest Upsell guest post.

Why is it that I find myself writing about the failings of the small‘ish’ local business and promoting the extra mile that a giant multinational business goes?

Here’s why: I drink coffee. But, my coffee drinking has no strict loyalties. I don’t consciously seek out a Starbucks, nor do I cross the street to go to the local barista. Guess you could say I’m a free agent when it comes to coffee, with one caveat, your coffee better taste good.

So it wasn’t unusual the other night for me to avoid turning left into the mall for a Starbucks or Tim Hortons. Instead, I chose to stay on ‘this’ side of the street to go to Moka House Coffee for an evening coffee on the way to my destination.

Moka House cost versus Starbucks initiative
Could this have “bean” the right approach?

As I waited at the counter for my turn, I ogled the baked goods, talked myself out of the gooey one and into the healthy one and back into the gooey one. I was in a good mood. Until I ordered. My friend and I both ordered a “large decaf”…It was nearly 8pm and neither of us wanted to be watching late night reruns of The Simpsons waiting for the caffeine high to wear off. The barista, and it’s not her fault, announced “We don’t brew decaf. Would you like an Americano instead?” I’m still in a good mood because I’ve heard this before. It’s The Upsell at BIG ol’ Starbucks in the evening where they don’t want to waste product and demand isn’t high for decaf strangely enough.

The counter person then announced what seemed like an inordinate amount of money for 2 large decafs and our 2 baked indiscretions. SHATTER!!! That was the sound of my good natured naïveté and my good mood falling to the ground in pieces. Innocent me asks “Why is it so much for 2 coffees and 2 goodies? Shouldn’t it be less?!!?” Only to be informed “Well no, a large brewed coffee is $2.25, but you’re having a large Americano, that’s $3.80 each.”

“BUT YOU DON’T BREW LARGE DECAF!!!” was the yell that went through my mind. Which instead came out “Oh! Really?? Then switch mine to a large brewed dark roast.” (I’ll spend some time tonight with Bart & Homer I guess) as my friend handed me a little more money for his and the barista probably cursed in her head at having to change the order in the till. Lucky for her she hadn’t started the Americanos yet.

As I walked to the coffee condiment counter… As I added to my cream and sweetener… As my friend and I walked to the car… As I drove to our destination… I fumed and ranted and raved… Because my expectation had been set by my experience at, where else but, Starbucks, go figure. What I didn’t mention above is that Starbucks makes you an Americano instead of brewed decaf FOR NO EXTRA CHARGE!!

Does it take a little more time to make an Americano? Probably. Does it cost a little more for the beans and the time on the giant espresso machine? Probably, but in the long run it probably even saves them money. But does it make a lasting positive impression, fostering goodwill and putting them higher on my coffee list because Starbucks went the extra mile and did ‘a little thing’ for me? DEFINITELY! So Moka House had their chance to impress me as a customer, to do a little more to keep my business. Did they succeed? NOPE, a big miserable fail!

Long before social media, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube et al, there used to be an adage in the restaurant business: “One happy customer is one happy customer. One unhappy customer tells 10 friends NOT to go to your restaurant.” In this day and age where a broken guitar turns into a viral song on YouTube and a broken wheelchair harnesses the power of Twitter, both guilting large airlines into doing the right thing, business should be asking itself: “Can I really afford to alienate a customer?”

So Moka House can keep their $3.80 decaf Americano. Next time, I’m going “across the street.”

Do you think Moka House was in the right? Should they not charge for the products they sell or would it be better to cater to customers though they’ll be losing money? The comments are over to you…

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10 thoughts on “Why Moka House Isn’t Challenging Starbucks For Coffee Supremacy Anytime Soon”

  1. Victoriawellness

    Sadly, this is such a common thread amongst business today. There are several businesses that over the last few years I just stopped going to just because their customer service was so bad.

    Starbucks lost me forever a few years ago when I went in one to buy my coffee supply for home. The barista was rude and spent the whole time serving me yacking to a friend of his. He argued with me about the coffee I wanted, that they didn’t have it when they had bags and bags of it on the rack. I think Starbucks is a classic example of success gone bad – there used to be a time when the staff were friendly and courteous.

    The Bay lost me forever when they did away with their floor staff. Now their stores are like pig styes and there is never anyone to help you. Sears on the other hand has gone the other way – lots of friendly, helpful staff. So, for department store purchases I have returned to Sears and only use the Bay as a “walk through” to get to the mall.

    The list could go on and on, but I think the message is clear with so many businesses. The customer doesn’t matter and I, being a business owner myself and pride myself of top notch customer service, am not willing to frequent a business that doesn’t appreciate the customer. The business owners need to remember the connection between the customer and their livelihood. It is their purchases that keeps them going!

    Narina Prokosch

    Victoria Wellness Professionals.

    1. Thanks for your comment Narina. I’ll be honest though, I think I live in your bizzaro world. I’ve rarely, if ever, received bad service at Starbucks…and believe me, I’d tell you if I did. When it comes to coffee shops, I’ve tended to get worse customer service at small businesses rather than big chains. Which is the opposite of what it should be.

      I’ve actually stopped going to Moka House due to the incredibly bad service. (3 times unlucky)

      But it is funny how one bad experience can turn you off a business. It’s happened to me.

      1. Victoriawellness

        Russell – I agree. I would think it would be the smaller shops that have issues with customer service. But, as you say in some cases it only takes one experience to sway a customer. Do you think maybe because the business owners are absent and not really aware of how their staff react to customers? I know for myself, I work along side my staff trainers (I own a personal training gym) every day. My staff are trained from Hour 1 how I want our clients treated and if something is amiss it is dealt with right away. If I have a staff member that isn’t delivering the customer service standard that I require they are put on notice and will be fired. One bad employee can do a lot of damage in a very short period of time, as you have experienced at Moka House and now that experience is web wide so the damage can be exponential.


        1. Starbucks employees ARE the business owners, though. I got my shares at 8 and sold at 36 and had a nice month in Indonesia on the proceeds. 

          Sounds like you got a bad apple. S/he won’t have lasted long at that Starbucks. Upsetting the customers is one of the rare fire-on-the-spot offenses.

  2. The additional cost to make an americano vs pouring a brewed coffee isn’t the issue, it’s the fact the retailer made a choice to NOT offer brewed decaf coffee in the late afternoon/evenings – a choice to avoid the cost of dumping unsold coffee at the end of the shift (you’ll find some places will make americanos in the last 30minutes rather than brew a fresh pot they’ll never sell)…so IMHO, no, its not about “charging for the products they sell”, it’s about them choosing to limit their waste, in so doing limiting their product offering, and instead upselling the customer who wants decaf.

    As a customer, if a business doesn’t offer what I want & then wants me to pay a premium to get it, I’ll just go to another establishment that offers what I want instead…Starbucks (and Serious Coffee as well) crunched the numbers on saving $ on wasted pots of coffee + keeping the customers…

    1. I would agree and disagree.

      Dave (and for transparency’s sake, we should mention you’re his wife) is noting that the cost is an issue. He didn’t want to spend the additional amount for an Americano. Should he have to to get what he wants? No. Where I do agree is that they should have brewed a decaf. Having their products available until they close is common sense. If they’re trying to cut cost corners, maybe they should take it off the menu entirely if there’s not a demand for it or some other cost cutting measure. If a company sells a product, they do until their doors close or they’ve run out. If not, their menu is a lie.

      1. Having seven years experience at Starbucks, I can quantify for you that while we had a policy of brewing decaf right up till closing we would routinely throw out $10-$15 a day worth of coffee. Making an Americano does cost more in both labour and bean terms, but making Americanos saves overall, because you don’t have any dumpage. 

        But Starbucks was always very clear that if we had decaf on the menu, we had to offer decaf, whether Americano or some other form, right up till closing. And logic demonstrates that the demand for decaf will continue till closing, however much of a trickle it may be.

        So in this instance, Starbucks saves money and makes a great customer service impression. You’d be a fool not to do the same if you ran a cafe. Chiseling is not attractive.

  3.  Personally, I’ll never get over the time the Moka House practically kicked a dozen of us out for having the gall to have TV coverage of a Tweetup at a normally slowish time of morning.  You can see my post on that at  They don’t want free publicity?  Go figure…

  4. Interesting I found this post… Some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, I’ve had in Victoria. Fortunately, there’s choice. Two reasons why I’ll never order coffee in Moka House. It has the distinction of being the single dirtiest coffee house I’ve ever been in. Filthy dirty. The other is, it’s also the source of the worse service I’ve ever received in a coffee house. The two probably go hand in hand. The place was so dirty, the service so bad, I ultimately poured my coffee out without taking a sip and walked across the street. Poor service, I can deal with. Filth? No way.

    The thing is though, there’s no need to deal with bad service at a coffee house. Coffee is almost entirely a service based business. The coffee is secondary. Starbucks does not have the best coffee. Tim Horton’s might not have the best coffee either. The service though? Incredible. Safe bets every time and always clean. (Picnic makes the best coffee I’ve ever had. I’m sure it’s roasted by unicorns. Hell, there might even be some ground unicorn horn roasted with the beans. I just know that I can feel the rainbow with every sip… Okay. That might not be the coffee. Hard to tell up here.) Serious, Discovery, Union, and Tre Fantastico are all quite good. So is the service. And they’re clean.

  5. OK, this is weird – I had a horrible experience at Moka House recently and while reading another UpSell post, I thought to look around ’cause I was going to offer to write one … lo’ and behold you’ve been there and done that. And then the first comment on a post 2 years old is only three days old – Mark Davidson, you beat me to it and stole my thunder! I simply will not put up with bad service in a coffee shop. If I’m paying 4$ for a coffee (it’s not worth that), then I’m paying also for service. Don’t tell me you are too busy to make something that is on your menu – I’m the customer. If it is so damned inconvenient, take it OFF the menu. And if you ever want me back, don’t be surly about it. I may have to put up with surly once in a while, but NEVER in a coffee shop selling over priced coffee.

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